SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner — who has been outspoken about his distaste for stopgap budgets — on Wednesday told the top four legislative leaders that he’ll only sign such a partial budget with a proposal for term limits and a permanent property tax freeze attached.
It’s a bit of a shift for the governor, who has for months said he’s focused on fighting for a full-year balanced budget, while pointing the finger at Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan for being unwilling to talk about the governor’s preferred reforms.
The Illinois General Assembly has just one more session day to try to end the state’s budget disaster — although Rauner could also choose to call for a special session. Rauner has said he’ll be available to meet with leaders every day to try to reach a solution.
After a nearly 90-minute meeting on Wednesday, Madigan — who skipped a leaders meeting on Tuesday, citing a scheduling conflict — reiterated his hopes to follow the framework of the last seven budgets.
“It’s a format that’s worked in the past. It’ll work right now if we follow it,” Madigan said.
Madigan too pointed the finger back at Rauner and Republican leaders for criticizing his absence: “I am available. I want to make the point that I was available when Gov. Rauner was in Rome. I was available when Sen. [Christine] Radogno was not available the week before Thanksgiving. My position is that I’m available for meetings.”
Radogno, the Illinois Senate Republican leader, in turn called Madigan’s comments about scheduling “snarky.”
“That doesn’t help the people of Illinois. Let’s grow up and deal with the problems. We’ve agreed to meet. Now let’s focus on the solution,” Radogno said.
Madigan’s comments to reporters were video recorded by the Illinois Republican Party, which on Tuesday unveiled a website targeting the longtime speaker. The party has tried to show dissension between the House Democrats, suggesting Democrats don’t support Madigan as speaker.
But Democrats convened Wednesday afternoon to talk about their pick for speaker, and several Democrats called that meeting “unified.”
State Rep. Lou Lang, D- Skokie, one of Madigan’s top deputies, called the meeting “cohesive, confident, congenial.”
But Republicans cite a failed attempt to override Rauner’s veto of the automatic voter registration bill this week as proof that Madigan’s majority isn’t as strong as it once was.
Madigan and his appointed negotiator, Rep. Greg Harris, D- Chicago, said budgetary working groups should convene to update figures. The groups last met before a stopgap budget was produced in July.
But Republican leaders don’t think that’s necessary — and think it shows Democrats are trying to slow-roll the budget process to try to force another stopgap budget.
Madigan, however, urged Republicans to be more “positive.”
“Republicans ought to recognize that this is a legislative body and that means there are many people involved, and there’s always consultation with the members of the Legislature,” Madigan said. “And Republicans ought to recognize that, they ought to live with it, and not be negative all the time.”
Madigan also tried to hang any last-minute tax increase around Rauner’s neck, saying a House resolution and proposed constitutional amendment were aimed at stopping what the Democrat dubbed the “Rauner lame duck tax increase.”
The tax hike rumblings have been the source of bickering. Rauner and Republicans point to Madigan saying last December that the state income tax rate should be raised back to at least 5 percent to help balance the state’s finances. Rauner has said he’ll only support a tax hike if it comes alongside reforms.
And Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, who is sponsoring the resolution says Rauner and leaders are having closed door meetings negotiating a “sleazy, lame-duck tax increase.”
The resolution is a way to put legislators on record who campaigned saying they wouldn’t support a tax hike, and it’s a way to prevent lame duck legislators from passing controversial bills on their way out. The symbolic resolution passed 87-12, with Madigan voting no, and Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin not voting.
Before the House session, Durkin called actions in the House “more political theater.”
“It’s taken us away from the real issue at hand, that is about finding a pathway to a balanced budget that has meaningful reforms,” Durkin said.
The Republican House leader said leaving Springfield this year without a budget fix would be an “embarrassment.”
Pension reform, term limits and education funding were discussed in the leaders meeting. Radogno said reforms — even ones that don’t save the state money immediately — are integral to the budget.
“Education reform, workers’ compensation reform, these are reforms directly impacting the budget. The ones that are not as integral to the budget affect our economic growth, which ultimately does impact the budget,” Radogno said.
Besides the budget talks, there are several key pieces of legislation brewing. Votes are possible on Thursday on a bill to shore up two Chicago worker pension funds, and on an energy bill from Exelon that would keep the company’s Quad-Cities and Clinton nuclear power plants open.
It’s also crafted to ramp up the state’s renewable energy industry and increase spending on energy efficiency, while adding about 25 cents a month to Exelon and ComEd residential customer bills. The governor’s administration is in support of the latest changes to the bill.